Ask yourself these key questions to figure out what’s wrong.
What’s really bugging me? You’re irritable and sad, but you’re not sure why. “Think about what happened earlier in the day or in the week,” says Larina Kase, author of Anxious 9 to 5: How to Beat Worry, Stop Second Guessing Yourself, and Work with Confidence (New Harbinger, $15, barnesandnoble.com). “Keep going back until you hit on the most upsetting thing, something that resonates with you.” This will help you address the underlying problem rather than just focusing on the latest snafu in your life.
Am I avoiding something? It’s easier to pin your bad mood on stalled traffic than on, say, your stalled romantic life. If you still don’t feel that you’ve arrived at the root problem, ask yourself if there’s something big going on that you’re unwilling to address. Is there someone―your new love, for instance, or your best friend―whom you’re reluctant to show anger toward? Is there a nagging problem that has been building for months that you’ve been hoping would simply go away? Merely acknowledging the bigger issue will take some pressure off.
Could it be more than one thing? Say you had a bad fight with your sister. It might be a simple case of cause and effect: You argued, and now you’re angry. But the fight might have been aggravated by a problem you’re dealing with at work or compounded by the fact that your father is sick. In those instances, you might be angry but also feel sad or hopeless. It’s common to have multiple emotions cropping up at the same time. When you have two or more pressing problems bringing you down, try to address them one by one.
The tips below will help you fix the situation that caused your bad mood. Do all three in sequence. If you’re still in a funk, consider making an appointment with a therapist.
Talk to a problem-solver. “People often think they should be able to handle problems on their own, and they don’t want to burden others,” says Kase. “But it’s easier to strategize with support.” Discuss things you can do to feel better as well as fix the problem.
Make a list. It should include things that will make you feel better, like sending flowers to your husband, calling Dad’s doctor to discuss his progress, or going to the gym at lunchtime. “Lists force you to structure your concerns and help you move into problem-solving mode,” says Nolen-Hoeksema. Number the items in the order that you want to accomplish them.
Visualize your ideal. Take a few minutes to close your eyes and picture what you want in the moment, as if it’s actually happening. This visualization technique is “basically a form of rehearsal,” says Howard. For instance, after you and your sister argue, imagine the two of you having a great time over dinner at your favorite restaurant. The memories of the fight will be replaced by a positive picture of harmony and fun.